Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Students vie for funding at Minute Pitch competition

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Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

The University of Massachusetts Amherst kicked off its Innovation Challenge with a Minute Pitch competition on Oct. 26. The event was the first of four competitions designed to give student and alumni entrepreneurs exposure, advice, mentorship and the tantalizing prospect of cash prizes meant to help jump-start student businesses.

With only 60 seconds to make their pitch, student’s speeches had to be well rehearsed and tightly planned to maximize the information they put before the four judges in a small amount of time. Thirty-one student and alumni businesses presented their ideas, from a sunglass subscription service, to healthcare records and security research, to a plethora of mobile app ideas.

iRollie, an on-the-go smoking accessories company already in the process of marketing its prototype phone-case, drew particular audience attention. The student presenters spoke with a constant sense of conviction as they gave their carefully crafted “elevator speeches.”

Upon completing their pitch, each team of students adjourned to discuss their performance with one of the mentors gathered by the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship. The mentors have varied professional and academic backgrounds, and have been specially paired with the student businesses that deal with their area of expertise. Reza Rajabi, an Isenberg School of Business doctoral student, explained that his role as a mentor is primarily to help refine the teams’ pitches and presentation style.

As the mentors and mentees returned to the main hall, the top five teams were announced, and each was given the opportunity to showcase their idea with a more generous time allotment before taking questions from the judging panel. The panel asked pointed questions about business plans, brand retention, and potential market competition. The competitors offered polished responses indicative of detailed preparation.

The judges, having had their opportunity to grill the contestants, announced the winner. The $1,000 first-place prize was awarded to master’s degree of geography student Peter Huntington and his company Maine Carbon Solutions, a carbon sequestration project that plans to purchase bio waste from the timber industry and transform it into usable fertilizer, keeping the carbon from the biomass in the ground rather than allowing it to escape into the atmosphere.

Uma Sridhar’s Biosina, an effort to replace the potentially toxic coatings of aluminum cans with non-toxic natural polymers, took second place. Julia Song’s Think Like a Girl, a company that designs engineering kits for young girls, took third place. Foam Improvement, the pun-dubbed project of Kara Martin and Laura Parker, won the audience choice award.

This competition is only one event within a full complement of entrepreneurial competitions offered by the University, such as ULaunch. Yumou Zhang, a member of DeciBell, a smart home-like service for dorms, explained that the reason they had entered into the Minute Pitch Event was their triumph at the Hack UMass competition earlier in the fall.

Other teams indicated that they plan to enter the next stage of the Innovation challenge, The Seed Pitch Competition. The events within the challenge are non-iterative, meaning that although it is helpful to participate in all four, one can still sign up for one competition, even if one has not competed in others. The application for doing so is available at the UMass Innovation website and is due Nov. 14. All UMass innovators are encouraged to apply.

Noah Kouchekinia can be reached at [email protected]

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